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Today has been an interesting day. After a visit to the Forbidden City this morning with Keith [Longmore, Communications Director], Simon [Harper, Press and PR Officer] and Paul [Grist, Company Manager], where we met up with Kirsty Mack the Events Manager from Birmingham University, the boys went off to have some duck – we couldn’t fit into our jeans so went off to do some shopping!

We took a rickshaw (with one crash and a very close near-miss!) to the Silk Street Market – 6 floors of shopping mecca. We bartered, haggled and physically tussled but hopefully have come away with some bargains; it’s hard to tell! I’ve been told that I drive a hard bargain and am a ‘very hard lady’ – so beware!

Then I left Kirsty and jumped in to a taxi, heading to the hotel or so I thought – only to be chucked out in some strange destination where there were no Westerners to be seen and no-one spoke English. So I joined a queue for a taxi and hoped for the best. Eventually I got into a taxi that didn’t seem to know where the hotel was – even though I had a Chinese translation in the blue book!

Panic began to set-in as my phone’s battery was dying, I had very little money, no idea where I was and no idea of the language. Thank God I was a Girl Guide many years ago! After several minutes of shouting very loudly at each other trying to make ourselves understood, we finally got to Tiananmen Square, stopped shouting at one another and got on the main road to the hotel.

I got back to the hotel to find a stack of e-mails about Saturday and once I’d dealt with those, there was just time for a quick shower before getting ready to head into the theatre (and the nightly fun of trying to do my hair with cold tongs – the plug just won’t stay in the wall!).

Security at the theatre in Beijing is so tight that absolutely no-one is allowed inside the building without either a ticket or a security pass – which presents something of a problem when you’re expecting 27 people (who aren’t watching the show) for a reception. All in all, it was a bit of a hairy nightmare – but hopefully Birmingham University, Michael Shepherd (their new Vice-Principal) and the alumni were pleased with what we managed to achieve.

In addition to all of this, we also managed to squeeze in a very last-minute interview with Lei Zhao for the China Daily. The newspaper also ran a generic feature about the Company’s visit to China earlier in the week. Click here to take a look.

Thinking of you all,

Angela

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It’s Tuesday 13 January and I have been in China for two weeks now. I arrived in Shanghai on New Year’s Eve after a very comfortable flight from London. I have never seen so many people in one place as the clock struck midnight into 2009. I watched the crowds and fireworks from the terrace of the hotel on Nanjing Road East, the equivalent of London’s Oxford Street. Coaches and cars were caught in the crowds as I watched the swarms of people fifteen hotel floors below me.

The following morning I left the freezing cold weather and arrived in the much warmer Guangzhou. The hotel was very comfortable – I even called down to Keith’s room and said ‘I think I am in the wrong room’! On tour in the UK and staying in a Travelodge hotel I am not used to the class of the room that welcomed me!

So a very comfortable week helped me settle into China and the first night at the theatre. In Guangzhou Miranda Genova and Rebecca Johnson from ITV Central spent two days with the Company documenting the preparations for the first night at the Baiyun International Convention Centre. The seven-minute feature will be aired on Wednesday 14 January at 6pm.

A crazy press conference took place in Guangzhou that was full of local newspapers, TV and radio. Journalists, some with two or three mobile phones each, were walking in and out, sitting and standing, talking and shouting waiting for their time with David [Bintley, Director], Keith [Longmore, Communications Director], Ambra [Vallo, Principal] or César [Morale, Principal]. In Guangzhou Angela [Hughes, Press and PR Manager] arrived with Diane Parkes of the Birmingham Post and Mail. Some of Diane’s features have already run – I am sure you can go to the Post and Mail websites to read them!

[Note from Rob: There’s a full list of links to Diane’s articles available here.]

Before the first night I attended a reception at the Garden Hotel and sat next to Brian Davidson, British Consulate-General Guangzhou. He was very interested in the Company and attended the first night as well as taking one of the tours backstage. I did my best to talk about shoes, costumes and the task of shipping the scenery overseas. Jonathan Payn [Principal] has been a tour guide extraordinaire and helped out with the tours in Guangzhou, teaching guests to sword fight and explaining the dynamics of an international tour in more detail.

Arriving in Beijing and seeing the breath-taking theatre is another highlight of an already exciting experience for me. A reception at the British Ambassadors residence gave me the opportunity to talk to representatives of Birmingham University, British Council and Avantage West Midlands. Another Press Conference followed before first night tonight at ‘The Egg’. I have to dash now to put on my suit!

13 days into 2009 and this Press Officer has enjoyed every day of it!

Simon

[Rob: The following article appeared in the Birmingham Mail yesterday, written by Diane Parkes, who is out in China with the Company at the moment.]

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BIRMINGHAM Royal Ballet arrived in Beijing to temperatures well below freezing.

While the company is hoping for a warm reception when it performs Beauty and the Beast and Romeo and Juliet at the National Centre for the Performing Arts this week there was no warmth to be had in daytime temperatures of minus 4˚C.

While the Chinese capital, which last year hosted the Olympic Games, may look beautiful with its iced rivers and lakes, the plummeting temperatures do not make life easy for the dancers.

First soloist Lei Zhou said it was imperative the dancers stay warm.

‘The cold is the biggest problem here,’ she said. ‘But we all know how important it is to warm up properly and to stay warm.’

This January’s tour of China is a homecoming for Chinese dancer Lei, who was brought up in the port city of Shanghai. Offered a scholarship to the Shanghai Dance School as a youngster, Lei came to the UK 15 years ago. And she has seen the profile of dance rise immensely in her home country.

‘Ballet was not as popular in China then,’ she said. ‘There were not the same opportunities for dancers that there are now. After I graduated I taught for 16 months then decided to come to Europe after winning prizes in China. There were more opportunities in Europe.’

But Lei is relishing the opportunity to perform in her home country. The tour kicked off in Birmingham’s sister city Guangzhou last week, takes in a week in Beijing then moves to Shanghai next Monday.

Lei said: ‘And I am really looking forward to going to Shanghai. My friends and family are coming to see us.’

And with the tour being the first visit to China for many of the performers, Lei is finding her local knowledge is being called on a great deal.

She said: ‘People are asking me for greetings, about the food, about cultural things – I am a translator, teacher and reporter at the same time!’

Well, we’re into the first performance in Guangzhou and I’ve finally managed to find a spare minute to give you a quick update on what’s been happening here.

Welcome

As I’m sure you’ve been hearing from others, it’s turned out to be quite an eventful week. What with the ‘challenges’ that the technical staff have been facing (the term ‘lost in translation’ doesn’t even come close!), the bitterly cold theatre (despite our desperate pleas all week, they’ve finally decided to switch the heating on this evening for the performance), forged banknotes, dodgy electrics (everytime a plug socket stops working, the theatre maintenance staff begin by stabbing a screwdriver in the holes…) and empty restaurants that still won’t serve us because they’re ‘too busy’, we’ve certainly been kept on our toes!

Yesterday was a free day for the dancers which gave lots of people an opportunity to explore the city. The Learning Department had a sharing of the work they’ve been doing with children and adults in Guangzhou – this group also came along to see the Romeo dress rehearsal this afternoon. There was a lunch to celebrate the opening of Wragge & Co’s new office in Guangzhou, and a reception hosted by Birmingham City Council – both of which Chris [Barron, Chief Executive], David [Bintley, Director], Keith [Longmore, Communications Director] and the board members went along to.

I got an opportunity to catch up on lots of paperwork and also to enjoy a leisurely birthday lunch and dinner – I had a hilarious gift from the Lighting Department, in the form of a very ‘Chinese’ alarm clock. I’ve attached a picture – unfortunately what the photo doesn’t show you is that the Chairman’s arm waves as the second hand goes round!!

Alarm clock

This afternoon, as opening night approached, the theatre suddenly became a hive of activity – walls were painted, ceilings re-plastered, fire escape signs fitted and the legion of cleaners hurredly started cleaning (rather than wandering the corridors with empty ashtrays). The ‘stage door’ which so far this week has been propped open and unattended, suddenly had an airport-style full-body metal detector installed and was manned by a team of 8 uniformed security guards – talk about one extreme to the other! Suffice to say that none of them batted an eyelid whenever the metal detector alarm went off…..

The Chinese attitude to smoking is another interesting thing. Everyone smokes everywhere here – and Chimp [Senior Stage Technician] was highly amused, when having a cigarette outside stage door, he was asked to smoke inside so as not to make the building look unsightly!

(short pause)

I’m back again having seen the dancers who are finished in Act II onto their coach back to the hotel. It’s a 20-minute drive between the hotel and the theatre here so there’s lots of checking people on and off coaches. The distance is shorter in Beijing, and in Shanghai the two buildings are opposite which will make life much easier.

Speaking of the hotel, I’ve included a photo below of the view from hotel window to give you an idea of the Guangzhao skyline (and how densely populated it is), along with a snap of the banner they’ve put up outside the hotel. The shot at the top of the page is of the welcoming signs they’ve put on every landing.

view-from-guangzhao-hotel

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Yikes! The show relay has just made a noise akin to the Queen Mary coming into dock, and promptly stopped working – so it looks like we’ll have to guess how the show’s going for the rest of the evening!

Well, I ought to sign off for now. We’ve got a post-show party at the hotel tonight, thrown by Mr Yang the promoter. The Technical Advance Party are off to Beijing tomorrow and then after another performance of Romeo tomorrow evening, we’ve got the get-out and a very early start to Beijing on Sunday morning – we’re leaving at 06:45 and the crew will be coming pretty much straight from the theatre to the airport.

Once we get to Beijing we’ve been invited to by the British Ambassador to a reception at the Embassy on Sunday evening – we’re assuming that there will be Ferrero Rocher aplenty!

Just to prove that it’s not all glamour on an international tour, I’m attaching a picture of Vanda [Hewston, Deputy Head of Wardrobe]’s cunning solution to the lack of plumbing for the washing machine waste:

Dodgy plumbing

I’ve also included a picture below of the LX department’s favourite drink – although I’m assured that it doesn’t taste anything like the name!

I hope you’re all well and that it’s not too cold in Brum – apparently we’re to expect temperatures of -12 in Beijing!

More soon!

Paul [Grist, Company Manager]

Nice drink

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s website

Birmingham Royal Ballet on twitter